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Junker Jay

Jay McCleary continues a lonely effort to rid Jackson County of abandoned cars as other tow operators have given up because of low scrap-metal prices

WHITE CITY ' When tow-trucker Jay McCleary set out eight years ago to make this town a little prettier, he figured he'd be done after a few months of towing away a few hundred junker cars.

Eight years and 10,000 wrecked cars later, McCleary's tow-truck beautification program rambles on throughout the county as junked vehicles continue to sprout like poppies across the valley.

It was just going to be a little deal to clean up White City, but the cars just didn't stop, says McCleary, 59. It's turned into a lot bigger deal than I ever thought it would.

I never realized this county could generate that many junker cars, he says.

— McCleary's Central Point Auto Wreckers was one of a handful of towing companies that joined Jackson County in a program aimed at ridding front yards, fields and forests of the unwanted wrecks without owners.

The tow-truckers hauled the cars away for free, but recouped their costs and even turned a profit in the sale of parts or scrap metal. But the bottom fell out of the scrap-metal market five years ago, chasing away everyone but McCleary.

Stubbornness, he says. It can be a pain in the butt sometimes, but it's worthwhile.

Now McCleary charges around &

36;25 apiece for private landowners wanting vehicles hauled off their property, and he whisks away the wrecks off public land for free.

Most of the vehicles are ones inherited by landowners during property sales, or simply dumped on public or private lands.

In the past, junkyards could not take the cars without titles, so Jackson County and the state Driver and Motor Vehicle Services created a new approach to get these cars.

After McCleary picks them up, Terri Baldridge from the sheriff's department substation in White City runs the cars on police computers to check for liens and previous owners.

McCleary then sends a notice to the previous owners giving them 15 days to claim the car. When the car goes unclaimed, McCleary forecloses on it, then crushes it.

It was so frustrating to people who couldn't get rid of these cars before, Baldridge says. I knew there were a lot of these cars around, but I never figured they'd be this many.

And they're everywhere.

Orchards, parking lots, apartment houses, storage units, McCleary says. People drop them off the side of the road, over the embankment or just into the brush.

During one drought year, a Sams Valley pond drained enough to reveal a Jeep Wagoneer he towed away. One landowner even found a complete 1971 Chrysler sedan buried in his front yard. It was registered to the previous landowner.

We took it, but first we looked for Jimmy Hoffa in the trunk, he says.

Occasionally, the cars come with enough decent parts for sale, ranging from on-board computers and rear-view mirrors to doors, fenders and lights. McCleary has sold fenders and side-panels from a fleet of 1964 Valiants on eBay, he says.

But most are just junk destined for the crusher. A stripped Volkswagen nets only a buck or two as scrap metal ' far less than the &


36;40 McCleary regularly incurs in expenses.

We make up for it when we get one that we can fix up or sell, McCleary says.

McCleary hauls about 20 of the unwanted wrecks a week in the seemingly endless pool of junkers.

I'm sure we've made a dent in them, but you can still drive around this county and I can point out a thousand more cars that could go, McCleary says.

Jay McCleary of Central Point Auto Wrecking has hauled off more than 10,000 junker cars in Jackson County in the past eight years. They end up here, at his White City auto storage yard. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli